When Yaya Toure joined Barcelona, commentators often referred to him simply as “Kolo’s younger brother”. Though clearly in his elder sibling's shadow at the outset, there was always the question of just how long it would take Yaya to make a name for himself.
He soon provided the answer through his impressive performances. He now enjoys his football at Camp Nou and for Côte d’Ivoire, whom he helped qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. FIFA.com caught up with Toure to discuss the secret behind the Ivorians' success, his own personal journey and next year's world finals.
FIFA.com: Yaya, qualifying for a second successive FIFA World Cup must feel like a big achievement for Côte d’Ivoire. What does this mean to you and your country?
Yaya Toure: This is a very big moment for us and the people back home. This World Cup is special for all of Africa. We are the first generation of players in Africa to play the World Cup on our own continent. We are excited, we are glad to be part of this African World Cup. I don’t have guarantees on how things will play out, but I know that we will give our best. We have learned a lot, we have seen our mistakes in previous tournaments. That doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes again, but we can’t repeat the old mistakes. That means we are progressing, we are going towards a good direction - that is good for Ivorian football.
Côte d’Ivoire played quality football during the qualifiers and you scored the most goals. What has been the secret behind your success?
The qualifiers were not easy, all the teams wanted to come to this World Cup. The key for us is that we have been very consistent lately. We had to work harder in all the games we played. For example, Burkina Faso are fighters and Malawi is a very unpredictable team. It’s not easy playing in African qualifiers, with all the travelling that is involved, especially for the European-based players among us.
Côte d’Ivoire are now among the favourites at South Africa 2010. Do you think you will be able to handle the pressure and live up to expectations?
(Laughs) People see us as the best team in Africa, that is pressure on its own. I don’t really want to say we will win the World Cup, but our intentions obviously are to win the competition. But I think we should take it one step at a time, we shouldn’t think ahead of ourselves. The media will always have its favourites, we don’t have to base our thinking and our belief on that. We know what we can do, we know what we can achieve. We have been gelling well as a team, we are now playing as a collective. In 2006, we had the hunger, but we lacked experience. Another thing is, we were given a tough group. We don’t know who will be our opponents this time around, but I guess that is something we cannot control. We will have to play against whomever our opponents turn out to be.
Besides Côte d’Ivoire, which other African country has impressed you so far?
Ghana, definitely Ghana. They are a good team and they play with so much intensity. I think they are also going to surprise a lot of people at the World Cup. I also rate Cameroon; historically, they have always been a good side.
How do you think African countries will fare at next year’s FIFA World Cup?
African teams know what is expected. They are aware of the expectations on their shoulders. African teams have matured a lot, they no longer want to go to competitions to make numbers; they are there to make a mark for themselves, they want to make an impression. And, if you look at the African teams now, the difference between them and European teams is no longer vast. This will make the competition tighter and more interesting. In the past, African teams were taken for granted in big tournaments, but this time it’s going to be different. The hunger is there and African teams now have realised that there is a lot at stake.
Just how influential is your older brother, Kolo, in your career?
Like any big brother, he is always looking out for me (laughs). When I joined Barcelona, he told me that it wasn’t going to be easy, but he encouraged me to work hard. He is a very disciplined person who taught me a lot about being level-headed. He has achieved a lot in his career, so I respect him a lot. I listen to his advice all the time.
You have been at Barcelona for almost two years. What is your assessment of the time spent at Camp Nou?
The first day you walk into the Barcelona dressing room, you are anxious and a bit intimidated. I wouldn’t lie and say I wasn’t nervous. But after some time, you have to tell yourself that you are there to do a job. You have to forget about other distractions and think of the bigger picture. For me, it wasn’t easy to adjust at first, but I quickly realised that I had (to) get used to the way things were done at the team and in the city.
Do you think you are now a complete player?
No, not at all. I can be better than this. The most important thing for me when I arrived in Spain was to break into the Barcelona first team. Then from there, one can only improve. You have to look at some of the African players who started a bit slow in Europe, but once they settled in the environment, they blossomed.
Going back to Côte d’Ivoire, just how important is Didier Drogba to the team?
Drogba is our leader and he leads by example. He is so dedicated to this team, and we are learning a lot from a guy like him. He doesn’t just talk, he goes into the field and produces the goods. With the national team, we are not concerned about individual achievements. For us, the team is more important.
You have been to South Africa a few times. What are your impressions?
It’s a beautiful country, and one of the best countries in Africa. Their biggest advantage is that they have the infrastructure. I think they will host a great World Cup. As an African, I have to give a fellow African country my 100 per cent support to succeed.